En route to another corona closure? Gov’t to convene on Wednesday

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein: "We are in a third wave."

Israelis are seen walking in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda amid the coronavirus crisis, on December 13, 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israelis are seen walking in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda amid the coronavirus crisis, on December 13, 2020.
The government will meet Wednesday with the goal of approving a third lockdown, including potentially shutting down the entire education system, as the number of new cases hit another peak.
“We need to have another discussion about a lockdown,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday. “There is a major outbreak.”
Later, in a speech at the Knesset, he said that “I expect Blue and White to make the right decisions for the health of the citizens of Israel, despite the elections.”
His words echoed those said earlier by Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy, who warned separately on Tuesday that there may be no escape from a lockdown.
“We have missed the ‘tightened restraint’ train,” Edelstein said during a visit to a senior living center where vaccination was launched on Tuesday. “We wasted precious time and the infection rate leaves us no choice but to close.”
The Health Ministry is also planning to recommend that movement be restricted to no more than 1 kilometer from home and that gatherings be reduced. According to the ministry's recommendations, the closure would not be lifted until Israel is once again at no more than 1,000 new cases per day.
It is still unclear if the upcoming closure, assuming it is approved, would start immediately or in a few days or a week. It is also up for debate whether closing schools will ultimately mean all schools or whether, for example, preschools and classes for students in first and second grade could remain open in green areas.
According to the Health Ministry, there were 3,730 new cases on Monday – some 4.1% of people screened tested positive. When adjusted to remove those who were screened as part of general virus surveys, the percentage is around 5%.
Of all those who were infected, 499 were in serious condition and 116 were on ventilators. The death toll hit 3,128.
Moreover, data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics showed that the death rate from the end of March until the end of October was 10.7% higher this year than expected. Some 21% of deaths in October were from coronavirus.
Edelstein labeled the reproduction rate as 1.3, saying “we are in a third wave.”
“Until the vaccines take effect, it will be two or three months,” the health minister said. “I call on everyone to put only health before their eyes. We have no privilege to put political considerations into health considerations.”
Earlier in the day, in an interview with the Hebrew media outlet Ynet, Levy expressed similar sentiments: “I am not sure that tightening restraint as proposed will be able to cope with this increase – we may have to talk about closure.”
EDELSTEIN ALSO discussed the rate of immunization among the public during his briefing – and on this the country is seeing a positive trend. He said that nearly 30,000 people were vaccinated in the first two days and later updated that more than 72,000 so far – “an amazing statistic that indicates a very good response from the public” – and that the goal is to reach 60,000 people per day.
Netanyahu said Tuesday evening at the Knesset that he had several conversations in recent days with the CEOs of major companies that are developing vaccines and that the country is en route to additional vaccine contracts. He said that Israel is expected to be “one of the first countries to get out of the coronavirus.”
Levy told Ynet that the goal is to vaccinate three million people by March 23 – the day that the country is expected to hold its fourth election. This he said could “dramatically” impact the rate of infection.
In response to complaints by some members of the public that calling to make vaccination appointments has been challenging – including the fact that several call centers crashed or disconnected callers – Levy reminded them that “the vaccine [process] only started two days ago – we are at the beginning of the operation.
“A little patience,” he said.
Several health funds reportedly asked the director-general if they could already begin opening up appointments to the general public – those under the age of 60 – in order to help prevent their call centers from collapsing during the next round. The health funds said they could vaccinate as many as 60,000 people per day already beginning next week.
The Health Ministry said that the opposite is the case: The ministry has been asking the funds to book appointments as soon as possible.
Levy told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night that by the end of the month, the country would have millions of vaccines and be able to inoculate anyone who wants without interruption.
MEANWHILE, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset met earlier in the day and approved the decision that beginning on December 23 at 10 p.m., any Israeli returning to the country from abroad will be required to be isolated in a coronavirus hotel.
People will isolate for between 10 and 14 days, depending on whether they agree to be screened for the virus.
The committee was chaired by MK Michael Malkieli on Tuesday. He replaced MK Yakov Asher, who had tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday.
Recall that the Health Ministry labeled all countries red – a move that went into effect on Monday at 9 p.m. From then on, anyone who entered Israel from abroad was required to be in isolation.
The decision then was that home quarantine was allowed, except for those travelers returning from Britain, Denmark or South Africa.
From Wednesday at 10 p.m. and until at least January 1, however, any Israeli who enters the country from abroad will need to be isolated at a state-run coronavirus hotel – except in extreme circumstances.
No foreigners will be allowed to enter the country.
Head of Public Health Services Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis spoke at that Knesset meeting and explained that home isolation is ineffective, mostly because so many people do not adhere to it. She noted that two-thirds of returnees do not maintain their isolation. And now, with the new mutation of the virus, the Health Ministry wants to be even more careful that it does not spread.
The mutation has been found to be 70% more contagious than the original coronavirus strain.
In response to questions about the quality of care at these hotels and not having adequate supplies, Home Front Command officials said that by Thursday night the situation would be rectified and they would be ready to take visitors.
They also promised and the committee agreed that force would not be used except in extreme cases.
Alroy-Preis said that she does believe the vaccine will work to protect against the mutation, but that no one is sure.
“As far as we know at the moment, the mutation does not impact the effectiveness of the vaccine,” she said. “The mutated virus spreads much faster, which is one of the worries, even if the vaccine is effective against it.”
Could the mutation already be in Israel?
“The mutation has not only stayed in England but spread around the world and it can certainly have come with passengers that came to Israel,” Levy told Ynet. “We have not discovered it yet in Israel, but it may be here.”